It’s Bigger than Toure’s Tweets
“Fire Toure!” is a call being made from many corners these days, but I’m not sure I can go that far. This is not just about Toure and his degrading tweets about Black women; this is about our whole community. My ethics demand that Toure be held accountable for the foolishness that he says, but not that he be removed from his job as a result of his opinion, no matter how warped it is. This may seem contradictory, but I think what we call for in our protests has tremendous ramifications on free speech, the presence of our voices on the national stage, and most importantly how we build and maintain community.
For those not familiar, Toure is a journalist who rose to prominence through hip-hop journalism and now is a featured media commentator on MSNBC, Vh1, Fuse and a host of other networks. For all his success, Toure has also accumulated quite a bit of enemies, and rightly so! Recently on twitter, Toure went into a tweet tirade about enslaved African women, rape, and liberation via bartering sex to White slave owners. Yeah, sounds like dangerous territory to step into, right? And trust me, Toure mis-stepped!
After posting the aforementioned tweets, he proceeded to blame his cousin for “stealing his blackberry” and tweeting from it. Almost en masse the twitterverse replied, as Jay-Z said, “We don’t believe you, you need more people.” Rather than stop the train wreck there, Toure continued to keep up the rouse that his cousin tweeted from his account, but soon admitted that he, in a fit of having a bad day had penned the tweets. There after, he deleted the tweets. To err is human, to lie about your err and cover your tracks is ridiculous. As a result, sites like What About Our Daughters are calling for MSNBC, where Toure is a paid contributor, to address Toure. They’ve created a phone in campaign as a way to put MSNBC on notice about Toure’s antics. They smartly have not called for a direct outcome, just an address, but I’m worried that MSNBC’s only paths will be: a) ignore the call in campaign or b) fire Toure. Neither of which are getting Toure any closer to being held accountable for what he said. WAOD aptly points out that MSNBC admonished David Shuster for his inappropriate twitter use on an MSNBC sponsored page. But there are a few key differences between Toure and Shuster. Toure is a “hired gun” who provides periodic commentary. Shuster is a MSNBC personality who reports daily and is really a part of the Brand of MSNBC. I wouldn’t have thought about the difference had I not noticed Toure’s case is dangerously analogous to that of Marc Lamont Hill’s issues with Fox News last year.
A few months ago, David Horowitz went on a chase to get Marc Lamont Hill, a Columbia Professor and paid Fox contributor off the air for his support of Assata Shakur. Horowitz started beating his propaganda drum to suggest Hill was supporting a cop killer, rather than acknowledge Shakur’s case was largely a miscarriage of justice and her guilt has been under question by many. As a result, Hill was dismissed from his position at Fox. Hill, while a regular contributor on the channel was “expendable” in the eyes of Fox News. See, news channels hire people to make commentary. They hire them because they want their perspective, but they’re not invested in the “contributors” and will fire them at first opportunity. Unlike Schuster, Toure is affiliated with MSNBC but is not one of their key personalities and holds a role akin to Hill. I certainly think that having one’s own perspective is what networks want, but we shouldn’t encourage corporations to chastise when we don’t agree with a person’s perspective. I believe in protest, I believe in taking action, but I also believe you must consider what you want as an outcome.
Many point to the dismissal of Imus as a great moment on in contemporary Black protest, which it ALMOST was. The reason Imus was dropped wasn’t because of his comments, rather he was dropped because the dollars attached to his show were in question. As my grandfather who grew up in Selma, Alabama told me, “Protest don’t mean nothing until you hit them in their pockets.” Advertisers dropped, Imus was dropped. Fast forward a couple years and Imus is back on the air, receiving a healthy paycheck (I’ll assume), and most of us barely bristled at his return to air. Kind of seems like he got sent to the adult version of “timeout.” Did he learn a lesson, maybe… but then again, what was the lesson we wanted him or others to learn?
If we want to “teach Toure a lesson” what is it? Networks are more into policing free speech than holding people accountable; it’s easier for them to do the former. After all, what does accountability look like for a corporation? Over the years I’ve heard some egregiously offensive commentary on air by personalities ranging from Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett on aborting Black babies to Pat Buchanan arguing White people built the United States, but at no point did I think their removal would leave us in a better place as a people. I’d rather have Bennett and Buchanan babble themselves into the point of irrelevancy or at least would organize to demonstrate their flawed perspectives and their consequences. And these are folks who are outside of my community. In community, couldn’t this be an ideal time to re-invest in dialogues about race, gender, violence? No I mean literally, grapple with and push those who carry quieted biases out of the closest into open engagement. I don’t expect corporations to have an interest in making my community better. When it comes to MSNBC, the stakes are low for them but high for Toure … and even higher for us as a community. To me the issue is much bigger than Toure. This situation made me think: As a Black community, what do we do when someone offends, assaults, or contributes negatively to our community? What does meaningful dialogue and action on gender and race sound and look like? How do we heal as a community when we are affected? Is there a way to handle matters “in house” –deciding what is to be done among the Black community without involving non-community members? Is there even such as thing as “in house” anymore? These are questions we need to think about beyond Toure’s tweets, because they set the stage for our activism and the standards of our community.